3 inspiring Indian designers making fashion that’s good for the environment, and your soul

This year’s theme for World Environment Day targets a real menace in our country — plastic, and the pollution caused by it. According to Plasticoceans.org, we’re producing more than 30 million tonnes of plastic every year, half of which is for single use (blame those straws). And if that wasn’t horrific enough, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. While labels like Stella McCartney and Adidas are raising their voice by partnering with organisations like Parley for the Oceans that aims to recycle plastic from the oceans, Indian designers like Anita Dongre, Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice and Kriti Tula of Doodlage are actively taking steps to ensure they use sustainable practices, with the goal of making fashion a tool for positive change.

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This season, Doodlage used slogans to raise awareness about thrift fashion, swapping, re-using, borrowing and repairing

Kriti Tula of Doodlage started working towards creating a circular fashion label only when she learnt the actual amount of solid fabric that was wasted. “Bangladesh, India and China alone create 80 billion square metres of fabric waste every year, and I knew there was a lot more that could be done with this fabric,” she says.

This inspired the designer to work exclusively with fabric waste created in mass manufacturing units. “This comes to us as end-of-the-line fabrics, post cutting waste, defected fabrics and post stitching scraps. We fix these fabrics, create texture fabrics, embroider and panel fabrics to create our pieces,” says Kriti, who reveals that this helped them save 6,000 meters of fabric last year, with no new fabric created and no extra scrap added by them.

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“Just by reusing, we saved 4.6 million litres of water, reduced 18,000 kgs of carbon emissions and added no pesticide or chemicals in our processes,” says Kriti. “That’s what sustainability means for me — consciously finding ways to reduce the impact on natural resources. Doodlage is a reflection of my personal belief of buying less and repairing more.”

Veteran designer Anita Dongre, one of the most vocal advocates of conscious fashion, uses her label Grassroot to revive crafts and empower artisans. “To me, sustainable fashion means conducting the business of fashion by looking towards the future, practicing and building processes that are environmentally conscious as well as respectful of the people involved.”

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Grassroot’s SS18 collection is inspired by the rivers of India

Not only is Grassroot eco-friendly and free of animal by-products, even her headquarters have been designed to give back to the environment. “Our office optimises on natural light and breeze thus reducing the consumption of electricity. A composting pit has been created where we compost all the waste. Even the water from the company is recycled,” says Anita. She is also partnering with manufacturers of sustainable fabrics and making conscious efforts to use them across all her four brands, Grassroot, Anita Dongre, Global Desi and AND.

“We are already experiencing the effects of decades of neglect, and the need of the hour is for the entire fashion industry to adopt more sustainable initiatives and create awareness,” says Anita. “I want to keep working towards making every practice sustainable,” she pledges.

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The collection uses handwoven cotton and eco-friendly linen

Winner of the International Woolmark Prize 2018 for the womenswear title, designer Ruchika Sachdeva of Bodice’s journey with sustainable fashion began with her experience at Vivienne Westwood’s studio in London. “At Westwood’s studio, I saw how committed a designer could be in addressing the social and environmental impacts of fashion,” says Ruchika. And when the designer came back to India, she was convinced she wanted to create meaningful fashion that constantly questioned the impact of textiles and production on society and on the environment.

“It’s estimated that billions of tones of clothing end up in landfills each year, and I’ve always been concerned with making clothes that transcend trends and can be worn in multiple ways,” says Ruchika. The designer’s innovative practices include using upcycled wool for Kantha yarn, natural dyes, and even sourcing buttons from renewable sources of coconut shell, seashell and wood.

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Ruchika’s award-winning collection for the International Woolmark Prize 2018

“I feel as a designer, I have a responsibility to create garments that contribute towards people’s lives socially, economically, culturally and ecologically. Wherever possible, we work with custodians of cultural heritage and the ecology, be it artisans who weave with wool in the Himalayas, or master dyers with intimate knowledge of the natural dye-producing plants, roots and shrubs of central India,” she says.

Animal welfare is another area that fascinates the designer, who refrains from using fur or any kind of animal skin in her designs. “Leather is not only an animal welfare issue, but also involves one of the most chemically-laden production processes with detrimental effects upon rivers and the water table. I’ve recently discovered wonderful fabrics including a luxurious powder pink vegan suede which I’m using in the new Bodice Studio Resort ’19 collection. I pledge to continue to find alternatives to leather that entice people to rethink what they believe about luxury textiles,” says the designer.

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Rather than use polyester and energy-intensive heat processes, Bodice uses binding to create structured pleats that are easy to maintain

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